Friday, June 01, 2012

A Look at our Homeschooling Life

I actually think this was our best year of homeschooling to date. David finished 5th grade and Isaac completed 4th grade. They actually do pretty much the same work, but for reporting purposes and due to their ages, I keep them in separate grades.

I remember when I was first starting homeschooling, I was so eager to read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling - How did people do it? What did their days look like? The truth is that there is no one size fits all homeschooling. That is both the beauty and challenge of it. You need to figure out what works best for your kids and that takes time and some trial and error. So, I offer what we did this year, not as a recipe for guaranteed success, but just another example of what homeschooling can look like.

Due to changed life circumstances, the boys had to take much more responsibility for their own education this year. At the end of last summer, I had read Homeschooling with Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling and A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres. Both are wonderful books and deal with unschooling. Truly, I will never be a total unschooler. I need a plan. My kids need a plan. But, I did let go quite a bit this year.

The standardized tests I have the kids take each year and submit to the city as proof of educational progress focus on math and English. Therefore, I decided that those were the two areas that had to be most traditional in our approach. They would learn all they needed to know in those two areas. Plus, they are the foundation of everything else.

David gets easily overwhelmed by too many math problems. For him, I used Spectrum Math, Grade 5. It offered practice in all the topics without being scary. We did one page a day. The only thing it didn't cover was decimals, so we covered that on our own.

Isaac has always excelled in math and loves a challenge. For him, I used Teaching Textbooks Math 7. That program comes with CDs that will teach the material, but I never used them. I just really liked the textbook. It leaves a lot of white space on the pages to work out the problems and each lesson offers review on previous topics. We did one lesson a day.

For English, they both used Language Arts, Grade 5 (Spectrum)
We also practice grammar using a chalkboard. I write out a sentence without capitalization and punctuation and they need to fix it. We practice writing a few times a week. This was also the year they learned how to type. I started with a typing program that had been given to me to review. The kids enjoyed it, but it kept making my computer crash. At Christmas, we bought an iPad, and they have been using a typing program on that ever since. Learning how to type has really helped with their writing, which they have always struggled with. They still have a long way to go, but they made a great deal of progress this year and I am pleased with that.

The boys read obsessively. The kids I worried would never read a book independently (up to two years ago, I read to them aloud almost all the time) now are rarely seen without a book in hand. They read a lot of popular kids' fiction, much of it good quality, but I also want them to be exposed to more classic literature. For reading, I got a list of middle grade appropriately classics and let them choose. They were required to do 1/2 hour of classic reading a day. They each got through 4 - 5 books through the course of the year. I still try to read to them a bit (5 - 10 mins) each night after we say our rosary together. Over the course of this year, we read Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and we are now reading Andersen's Fairy Tales.

We started studying Latin last year. We use the Catholic Heritage Curricula Latin Program. We used "Vita Mariae" this year. We finished up at the end of the 3rd quarter.

For history, I gave the kids free reign to read what they liked about American history. We had done a survey of it last year, so they had a framework. They read biographies, survey books about different time periods, books on the Civil War and Revolutionary War. We also started watching the daily news this year. Isaac decided to start watching it one day and got hooked. I hadn't watched the news since they were little. There is a lot on there they just didn't need to know, but they are getting older and, while I still cringe at some of the topics covered, it is better that they be exposed to them in my presence where I can offer commentary. This allowed us to discuss a lot about current events, politics, etc. They also used a "Stack the States" App for U.S. Geography. Over the course of the year, they really learned a lot.

I had originally planned to give them similar free reign with science, but we ended up doing a co-op with 2 other families. We used Behold and See 5 from Catholic Heritage Curricula. It worked out great. They also did learn a lot on their own. They've studied a great deal about various animals this year and just recently have immersed themselves in the world of dinosaurs.

For art, we got various books out of the library and explored different works of art and artists. We also did art projects. David loves Lego Digital Designer and wants to eventually study 3-D Design in college, so he used that a great deal. He also used some "learn to draw" books. Both boys also took an "Introduction to Acting" class this year, which they loved.

For religion, we used Credo: I Believe, Grade 5 3rd Edition Student Book: Faith and Life. We also read Stories of the Saints I and II from Catholic Heritage Curricula. They can be used as a reading comprehension program, but we just read them to learn about the saints. At the end of the year, we read The King of the Golden City, An Allegory for Children. I do read religion aloud to them. I think it is important for me to discuss with them and answer their questions as we go along.

I think that pretty much covers the academic subjects. So, what does an average day in our homeschooling world look like? The kids get two hours of media time a day - their choice on how they use it (TV, computer, Nintendo, etc) - the news doesn't count toward that total. They like to do one hour in the morning right when they get up, then they eat breakfast and start school. It's usually about 8:30. I give them a list of subjects to complete that day. They can do them in any order. I help with the things they need help with. They cross off subjects as they complete them and generally take a 5 - 10 minute break in between subjects. We break for lunch at 11. They usually have one - two lessons left for after lunch and are done their day between 1 - 2 pm, at which point they do their second hour of media time. If we have someplace to be during the day (doctor's appt, etc) - they take their books with them and read in the car. One of the things I like best about homeschooling is that when they are done for the day, they are done. There is no "homework" to contend with. We run errands in the afternoon, or they have friends over, or they go to acting class or chess club, or just relax. Friday is a very light day. They do just one subject in the morning, then we go hang out with our homeschool friends.

There you have it - a look at our homeschooling life!

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